Inadequate Staffing: How High Nurse-to-Patient Ratios Impact Patient Care
Patients being admitted to a hospital often have a lot of things on their mind. They might be anxious about having a surgery or other procedure performed, or they might be wondering about how long it’s going to take for them to recover. But one thing they often don’t think about is whether or not there’s going to be enough nurses on staff to help care for them.
Most people assume adequate staffing levels at a hospital will be a given, but in reality, that’s not always the case. Many hospitals in the United States struggle with maintaining safe nurse-to-patient ratios, but lots of research exists to support the idea that having enough nurses on staff to maintain a low nurse-to-patient ratio plays an important role in providing quality care for patients.
If you’ve ever been in the position of having to work an understaffed shift, or have simply visited a business when it was clearly understaffed, you know how it is: the employees who are working that day are rushing around to handle the extra work and with the extra workload, it’s much easier for mistakes to happen. That’s exactly what happens in hospitals when there aren’t enough nurses on staff. But unfortunately, the mistakes that happen in understaffed hospitals can be very dangerous for patients.
Multiple studies have linked hospital understaffing to a higher rate of patient mortality. One study that was published in The Lancet found that for each additional patient a nurse cares for, patients had a 7% higher chance of dying within 30 days of admission. When nurses have fewer patients to care for, they’re able to spend more time with each patient, making it more likely that they’ll be able to pick up on subtle changes in a patient’s condition and address problems before they become more serious. Adequate staffing levels also helps reduce patient falls, bedsores, and infections. Patients are often able to spend less time in the hospital.
The benefits of a low nurse-to-patient ratio continue even after a patient goes home. Not only will they have received better care in the hospital, nurses who aren’t overwhelmed are able to teach their patients how to take care of themselves at home, making it less likely they’ll need to be readmitted to the hospital. In a 2016 study by Penn, they looked at patients who had undergone elective hip and knee replacements. Among the patients who had their procedures performed at understaffed hospitals, the most common reason why people needed to be admitted was because of infections. But with adequate staffing, infections would be less likely to occur since nurses would have more time to teach patients to properly care for their incisions and better inform them about the warning signs to watch for.
Safe hospital staffing levels don’t only benefit patients. Low nurse-to-patient ratios also help prevent burnout and exhaustion in the nurses, which helps keep dedicated, highly-skilled nurses in the field where they can provide quality care for their patients.
Most nurses sincerely care about helping their patients, but when staffing levels are too low, it’s very easy for mistakes to happen. If you suspect your injury or illness could have been prevented through better hospital staffing levels, it’s important to contact an inadequate staffing lawyer as soon as possible. Inadequate staffing can be a type of medical malpractice and an experienced lawyer will be able to help answer your questions and help you understand what your legal options are.